Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Home for the Holidays” (1995).
Remember the opening words in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I took that line and turned it on its head and created my own saying. “All families are dysfunctional, but some families are more dysfunctional than others.”
Jodie Foster has put the fun, and the funk too, in dysfunctional in her homage to the American Thanksgiving family get-together. Without the fun, and the funk, of course, you only have dystional. Who the heck knows what that is? “Home for the Holidays” is a movie about one of those “more dysfunctional than others” families. And, yes, there’s turkey and all the trimmings. ‘Cause, without them, it would be like Christmas without Jesus or Santa or Rudolph. That would be a very un-Christmas Christmas movie, wouldn’t it?
Holly Hunter is having a bad hair day. It could be worse. She could be having a no-hair day. That would mean she is bald. One thing is for sure. Holly Hunter is not bald. So it’s obvious that it’s only a bad hair day. Her boss just fired her, then tried to make out with her, claiming how that he hates Thanksgiving as he does. Dropping her off at the airport, her sixteen-year-old daughter tells her that she is about to have sex with her boyfriend. “We love each other,” she says. On the airplane home, she sits beside a woman who drives her nuts.
So she arrives home and we begin to see that her family is not just another dysfunctional family. It’s a family with Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson, and brother-in-law Steve Guttenberg. If that’s not enough dysfunction for you, it has Geraldine Chaplin as Aunt Glady. Yes, you heard that right. Aunt Glady.
As they used to say at the Colosseum, “Let the games begin.” Mom Anne Bancroft is a first-class worrier of a mother. Dad Charles Durning is a fun guy, but a little too much fun for Mom. He keeps getting underfoot. Then there’s brother Robert Downey Jr., showing up with his gay partner, Dylan McDermott, who has replaced “Jack I thought he was the one” Jack. At least, everybody believes Dylan is his gay partner. (Turns out he isn’t. Downey is still with Jack. Dylan McDermott is there to meet Holly Hunter.) Brother pulls into the old homestead’s driveway with Isaac Hayes and “Shaft” on the radio. It’s the kind of entrance you’d like to see more characters in comedies make.
Of course, being the wild and crazy guy he is, he makes a wild and crazy entrance with his Polaroid camera. (I know, this was back in the olden days of the nineties when Polaroid was the smartphone camera before there was such a thing as a smartphone.) He doesn’t knock at the front door. He sneaks in the back way, bringing his brand of over-the-fun and chaos to his parent’s house. It’s enough to drive his sister crazy, in a good way. Just when she thinks she’s had enough, he goes and redeems himself with a line like, “People are starting to look at your wardrobe.”
Mom being Mom, she can’t leave well enough alone. She’s got to set the single Holly Hunter up. Who does she set her daughter up with? The guy who comes in and fixes the furnace, that’s who. Played by David Straithairn. He’s a real fun guy. He immediately starts off, “I’m all alone this year. My brother and sister got canned and left town. My parents went and died on me.” On top of all that tragedy, his old girlfriend married his best buddy. Not the kind of guy Holly’d want to be fixed up with. But what can you expect from Mom and her match-making?
Just as things are going so well, Sister Cynthia Stevenson arrives with her husband Steve Guttenberg and their son and daughter and lots of sweet potato. Well, the family sits down for a Thanksgiving feast. First Aunt Glady has to sing. Needless to say she’s not who you’d want to sing at your Thanksgiving dinner. Then comes the prayer to end all Thanksgiving prayers. Kind of made me nostalgic for Festivus (for the rest of us).
Aunt Glady has more. A lot more to say. Then there’s the turkey carving. And the feast and oh, the family discussion. Or should I say the family argument. Brother and sister throwing slings and arrows at each other. Soon the rest of the family is throwing their two cents in. It is time for some truth-telling in the family. It is time for some truth-telling. “You’re a pain in my ass,” Robert Downey Jr. says to Mom. “You have bad hair. But I like you a lot.”
The family Thanksgiving ends with Charles Durning watching his daughter and her husband fleeing in a soaped-up car, and he says, “Deck the halls. I can’t wait for God damned Christmas.” And later “Here’s to us Americans.” Still later Holly Hunter ends up with Dylan McDermott taking Aunt Glady home. And he’s telling her how impressed he was with her picture. Can you believe it? But this is Holly Hunter. She’s got that special Holly Hunter magic we saw in ”Broadcast News”, “Miss Firecracker” and “Raising Arizona”.
You never know what will happen when you go home for the holidays. You just never know.